H. Montgomery Hyde, the
Ulster Unionist MP (and author of The Other Love) who led the 1950s campaign for homosexual law reform and his struggle for political survival [i] Westminster
It will be surprising to many, and perhaps distressing to some, that the Member of Parliament who led the campaign to have the House of Commons debate the Wolfenden report – let alone implement it – waSean Ulster Unionist MP, Harford Montgomery Hyde. He was to pay a heavy political price for his bravery.
The debt owed to him has gone largely unremarked, although he would be recognised by many as the author of that, still fresh, history of homosexuality in
Hyde was to be the author of nearly fifty books. [v] Although he wrote rapidly he was a consistently thorough and accurate historian. Some of his biographies were written to order but it was those works on a spying or sexual topic to which he devoted most attention and effort. His publications on intelligence and defence matters however nearly outnumber those with gay themes. He also wrote innumerable articleSeand reviews.
There iSeanother anniversary to be celebrated this year, related to the Wolfenden report, and that is the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Northern Ireland Order in Council in 1982 which brought the
I must be one of a now, small number of people who actually attended some of the parliamentary debates at Westminster from 1965 to 1967, actually in 1966, in the House of Lords, when I waSean eager 20-year-old wishing to meet other gays, not knowing where to find them, and very afraid to ask. This was despite being happy in my homosexuality. I have ruefully gathered since that supporters of the HLRS were also present in the public gallery but I had not conceptualised the Trust was manned by other gay men, nor did I notice them.
This year, 2007, is also the so far unmarked, centenary of Hyde’s birth. Born on 14 August 1907, his background was
Married three times, he was on the surface an unlikely champion of homosexual law reform so why the exceptional interest in the matter? And how was it that what is now reported [ix] to be the most homophobic place in the western world, and was then certainly, highly conservative, produce, elect and tolerate such a public representative?
The further question in most minds must be: Did he have gay relationships? His own words on that subject were, My feelings were always distinctly heterosexual. [i] He certainly knew gay people, particularly at
When first in
As to religion, Hyde wrote, For a time, I admit I was greatly attracted to the Roman church, especially the ritual, so much more appealing to my aesthetic sense than the dull Protestant services. But already at Queen’s I was beginning to have doubts about all religious beliefs.” [iii] This lack of religious belief enabled Hyde to break from many related conformities. In the House of Commons, he always affirmed, instead of taking the oath but this, he said, was never noticed back home.
He looks like a matinee idol in his 1930s studio photographs, yet earlier, at his graduation, more of a young fogy [iv]. He was 5′ 7″ tall and appears to be a classic 1920s person; somewhat louche, having lost his virginity to a prostitute in
[end of Part I]
[i] None the less, all the classic markers of gayness were there; an interest in history, archives, genealogy and spying (he was nicknamed Monty the Mole’), an affection for aristocracy, the ownership of two ginger marmalade catSeand a tendency toward
[ii] PRONI D.3084/B/B/2/1. Ronnie wrote to Hyde from a house named Royton in Marlborough Park North,
[iii] PRONI D.3084/A/5B
[iv] PRONI D.3084/A/3 and D.3084/B/A/2
[ii] The Other Love: A Historical and Contemporary Survey of Homosexuality in
[iii] Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) entry.
[iv] Antony Grey is the pseudonym of A.E.G. Wright, b. 1927. The Albany Trust was a charity set up alongside the Homosexual Law Reform Society to promote psychological health in men through research, education and social action.
[v] Other books in the Hyde oeuvre include those on T.E. Lawrence, entitled Solitary in the Ranks; Edward Carson (thought by Dr Ian Paisley to be the best of the three Carson biographies); British air policy between the wars; Bloody’ Judge Jeffreys; Strong for Service (on Lord Nathan, Attlee’s Aviation minister); and Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading, Viceroy of India, and the Lord Chief Justice who presided at Roger Casement’s trial.
[vi] Hyde won a scholarship to
[vii] James Hyde, an auctioneer and linen merchant, was a councillor for Belfast Corporation’s Cromac Ward.
[viii] Mrs Isobel Hyde died in 1966.
[ix] Love Thy Neighbour: How Much Bigotry Is There In Western Countries? Vani K Borooah,
[x] None the less, all the classic markers of gayness were there; an interest in history, archives, genealogy and spying (he was nicknamed Monty the Mole’), an affection for aristocracy, the ownership of two ginger marmalade catSeand a tendency toward
[xi] PRONI D.3084/B/B/2/1. Ronnie wrote to Hyde from a house named Royton in Marlborough Park North,
[xii] PRONI D.3084/A/5B
[xiii] PRONI D.3084/A/3 and D.3084/B/A/2
[xiv] Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry, who still resides in
[xv] Lord Castlereagh, Robert Stewart, the 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, b. 1769, was Foreign Secretary from 1812 until he committed suicide in 1822, due to depression. It was suggested he was being accused or blackmailed for homosexuality, as he put it himself, the crime of the Bishop of Clogher’. Percy Jocelyn, a son of the 1st Earl of Roden was charged after being caught in a compromising position with a guardsman, John Moverley, at the White Hart public house in
[xvi] Count Joachim von Ribbentrop, later German Foreign Minister was then Ambassador in
[xvii] Sir William Stephenson’s biography was written by Hyde and published in 1962 as The Quiet Canadian.
[xviii] The four books were Oscar Wilde (1975); Oscar Wilde: the Aftermath (1963); Lord Alfred Douglas (1984) plus the aforementioned Trials of Oscar Wilde (1948).
[i] An abridged version of this paper was given at the Wolfenden50 conference (28-30 June), King’s College London, on 30 June 2007.